Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden Review

Although The Book of Harlan is about the life and experiences of Harlan, there are many other vignettes throughout the book that focus on the lives of other characters. I am very thankful for that because the other stories are what actually saved the overall story for me. I did not like Harlan at all. He was a selfish, misogynistic, womanizer who was careless with his words and actions. His selfishness extended to his parents, friends, and lovers alike. I did feel sorry for Harlan, because he survived one of the world's greatest horrors, yet I still just couldn't bring myself to like him as a man. He was spoiled by a mother who herself was pretty selfish, so part of the blame for Harlan's deficit in character lays firmly at the feet of his parents. Harlan's father worked hard and loved his family, but he wasn't the strong person in their family. Harlan's mother got her way in all things which was a problem from the beginning of their marriage straight through to Harlan's young adulthood.

The Book of Harlan is written in very short chapters that carries the reader through the story extremely smoothly. I'm not sure if it tricked my mind into consuming the story faster than I normally would or what, but I felt like the story flew by in the best possible way. I was engaged from beginning to end, even while I was busy not liking Harlan. The many lives that orbited around Harlan were interesting and many times tragic. I had a much easier time having empathy for them and hoping that the more inevitable and realistic outcomes wouldn't befall them. There is a plot twist for one of the secondary characters that I didn't see coming and it served as a gut punch when it was revealed. Bravo, Ms. McFadden. That was a horrible but poignant moment in the story. 

McFadden's writing style is wonderful and I am happy that I already own three of her other books. I am looking forward to reading them soon. If you aren't familiar with her work, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Book Of Harlan. 

The Book of Harlan opens with the courtship of Harlan's parents and his 1917 birth in Macon, Georgia. After his prominent minister grandfather dies, Harlan and his parents move to Harlem, where he eventually becomes a professional musician. When Harlan and his best friend, trumpeter Lizard Robbins, are invited to perform at a popular cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre--affectionately referred to as "The Harlem of Paris" by black American musicians--Harlan jumps at the opportunity, convincing Lizard to join him.

But after the City of Light falls under Nazi occupation, Harlan and Lizard are thrown into Buchenwald--the notorious concentration camp in Weimar, Germany--irreparably changing the course of Harlan's life. Based on exhaustive research and told in McFadden's mesmeric prose, The Book of Harlan skillfully blends the stories of McFadden's familial ancestors with those of real and imagined characters.


  1. This one is on my reading list...I may still try it

    1. It was a good read Sharonda! McFadden writes a good story. I highly recommend it. The fact that she drew enough emotion out of me to really dislike Harlan is a good thing because she made him feel real with real flaws.

  2. I have a subscription with My Lit Box and it had The Book of Harlan as May's pick but I joined in June, so I missed out on getting it. I still want to read it one day. I'm glad to see that Harlan is an interesting and complex character. Also, I love twits! Sounds like a great read.


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